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The Crucible: Spectrum of Good and Evil

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You may be familiar with the typical protagonist

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and antagonist which appear in most stories.

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However, Arthur Miller demonstrates a more complex portrayal of “good and evil” through the use of the different characters in the Crucible. So where does that leave the character, as they are neither good nor bad? There is something called “Moral Ambiguity.”

The term “Moral Ambiguity” is when a character is neither a hero nor a villain. These characters possess both positive and negative traits and do not demonstrate moral consistency such as being all good or all bad. So, for today’s talk show I will be showing you how different characters from The Crucible practice the use of Moral Ambiguity throughout the play.

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Let me begin with an important question: Do you think there is an inherently good or an inherently evil character? Common examples would be characters such as Reverend Hale and Elizabeth Proctor being classified as “good.” While Reverend Parris and Abigail Williams are leaning more towards the evil side.

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So where does this leave the infamous John Proctor? It is difficult to classify John Proctor as either good or bad, as he shows a growth or a development in his character which can be seen throughout the play. I will be talking about three characters you are familiar with, namely Elizabeth Proctor, John Proctor and Abigail Williams. These characters will show you how sometimes.. there are gray areas that fall within the spectrum of good and evil.

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Now let’s start of with Elizabeth Proctor. Otherwise known as “Goody Proctor.”

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Despite being labelled as a “good” character in the play, she appeared somewhat cold and detached, even forbidding in the beginning. In Act Two, readers may not form a particularly favourable impression of her. In the first quote “John, if it were not Abigail that you must go to hurt, would you falter now?” This establishes how Elizabeth has not forgiven Proctor completely for his affair with Abigail, despite John’s attempts at making amends. She appeared suspicious of her husband’s motives, especially his reluctance to go into Salem and denounce Abigail as a fraud and liar.

In the second quote, “I think you be somewhat ashamed, for I am there, and she so close.” Revealing to the audience how she remained doubtful of her own husband’s loyalty. Thus, showing strained and awkward atmosphere within their relationship even though the adultery took place seven months after John’s affair with Abigail. However, this feeling is justified as she was wronged by her own husband and despite her husbands wrongdoings she still has decided to remain with him and stay true to her marriage vows showing that she has moral fortitude.

Despite appearing cold and unforgiving, this starts to change as the play progresses. This is seen after her arrest wherein we start to see the extent of Elizabeth’s devotion towards her husband. When being questioned by Danforth as to the reasons for Abigail’s dismissal from service in their house she says “(Not knowing what to say, sensing a situation wetting her lips to stall for time): She dissatisfied me. (Pause) And my husband.” This is significant as it catches her facing a moral dilemma. This was the turning point in her character as she knew that if she tells the truth she would have to reveal to the court that she was aware of Proctor’s adultery with Abigail, and she was also torn as she did not know whether or not her husband wanted her to tell the truth.

In this quote, she gives a vague answer which is not entirely true and not untrue either. However, despite the fact that her act of lying goes against her religious beliefs, she ended up taking a risk, lying to protect her own husband. Unbeknownst to her, of course, she is actually contributing towards his own downfall. She has unknowingly contradicted her husband’s own claim regarding Abigail’s dismissal from service in their house. Thus, Elizabeth lied for what she believes to be something good, which is to save her husband.

In Act Four when she is left alone with Proctor, Elizabeth’s unselfish like nature is accentuated even more, enabling her to respect Proctor’s decision to die with integrity rather than to live as a liar. Even though this will cause her tremendous personal pain. She says “Do what you will. But let none be your judge. There be no higher judge under Heaven than Proctor is! Forgive me, John – I never knew such goodness in the world.” She declines to “judge” him, as she is a wife who loves her husband greatly and who respects him too much to pass judgement on his decisions, not as that of a woman who is cold and unforgiving, as may have been the case earlier in the play. Therefore, this shows a vast development in her character from someone who was distant and detached from her own husband to someone who is selfless, non-judgemental and willing to sacrifice her own moral beliefs to save him.

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Let’s move on to the next character that I will be analyzing. This character is identified to be a “tragic hero.” What is a tragic hero you may ask. Well, a tragic hero is a literary character who makes a judgement error that inevitably leads to his or her own destruction. With this definition in place, who do you think would be my next character.

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You guessed it right folks. None other than the man, the myth, the legend. John Proctor.

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John Proctor is the central character in The Crucible because most things that occur in the play either concerns him directly, or stems from his actions and decisions. However, it is visibly shown that Proctor is by no means perfect. In most of the play we see him as a flawed hero or tragic hero who is neither good nor bad. Only towards the very end of the play does he demonstrate qualities which can be described as truly good or “heroic.”

In the beginning, Proctor is shown to be engulfed by guilt as he committed adultery with Abigail Williams. This reveals him to be someone who has committed an immoral act. In the quote “She thinks to dance with me on my wife’s grave! And well she might, for I thought of her



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